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The Conscience of a Liberal: Reclaiming the Compassionate Agenda

af Paul Wellstone

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2065132,656 (4.4)1
"Never separate the lives you live from the words you speak," Paul Wellstone told his students at Carleton College, where he was professor of political science. Wellstone has lived up to his words as the most liberal man in the United States Senate, where for the past decade he has been the voice for improved health care, education, reform, and support for children. In this folksy and populist memoir, Wellstone explains why the politics of conviction are essential to democracy. Through humor and heartfelt stories, Paul Wellstone takes readers on an unforgettable journey (in a school bus, which he used to campaign for door-to-door) from the fields and labor halls of Minnesota to the U.S. Senate, where he is frequently Republican Majority Leader Trent Lott's most vocal nemesis. Along the way, he argues passionately for progressive activism, proves why all politics is personal, and explains why those with the deepest commitment to their beliefs win.… (mere)
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While I was too young to have known much about Wellstone before he died in the tragic 2002 plane crash, I was old enough to appreciate the cosmic justice when Al Franken recaptured his seat from Norm Coleman in 2008. It should go without saying that Wellstone was one of the few Senators who weren't complete garbage, thanks to his unwavering support for economic fairness, which has been one of the main casualties of the Democratic Party's trans-Clintonian realignment. It's extremely reinvigorating to read through the sections where Wellstone talks about what moves him: unglamorous fights over issues like mental illness, drug addiction, and childhood poverty don't get the kind of glitzy TV coverage that gay rights campaigns do, but they are far more fundamental in terms of making a real difference in people's lives. It takes a lot of courage to take on economic interests the way that Wellstone did, and his comment that he represents "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" is both an inspiring message to those who care about the same issues that he did and a sad indictment of the pro-corporate corruption that has neutered a big chunk of the party that claims the "progressive" mantle. Only by actually standing for something can a party really endure as more than a cash-infused vampire, and the work that Wellstone did to keep real issues on the agenda is a small but absolutely indispensable part of the Herculean task of improving the world around us. If the Senate had 99 more Wellstones it would be ten thousand times better of an institution. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
"The famous abolitionist Wendell Phillips was once asked: 'Wendell, why are you so on fire?' He responded, 'I'm on fire because I have mountains of ice before me to melt'. So do we."

One of the better political memoirs I've read, and that's before taking into account the fact that it was so ahead of it's time. Senator Wellstone was advocating for Medicare For All back in 1994, he was talking about grassroots organizing like 2016 Sanders. His command of progressive causes was impressive on its own, but when you consider that this book was written in 2001, it's incredible.

The Senator touches on issues from mental health to corruption to winning an underdog campaign. His main message is simple: conventional politics is dying, we need to capture the energy of the "democratic wing of the democratic party" and build a movement. Grassroots organizing is the only way to overcome entrenched powers, so there's no reason to appeal to the moderates sitting on their couch. We must appeal to the people who are flocking to the streets.

Wellstone died in 2002, just before his third Senate election. All I could think when reading this is that as horrible as our politics are today, he would love the energy that's erupted around the country. The Climate Strikes, Women's Marches, it would have brought him immense joy. ( )
  MaxAndBradley | May 27, 2020 |
A wonderful person gives his thoughts on grassroots organizing throughout his life. He stood up for the common man and the world has suffered greatly from his death in 10/02. I still believe the Rightwing are responsible for the death of Paul and his wife and daughter. There is no know reason for the plane to have crashed. The Republicans knew Paul was trouble for them and they couldn't just get rid of him- his wife was very much involved in his politics and would definitely have carried on in his place. ( )
  camplakejewel | Sep 18, 2017 |
Almost a decade after his untimely death in a plane crash while campaigning, I read Senator Paul Wellstone's "call to arms" - his blueprint for Progressive victory in the highest body of elected politicians.

The Conscience of a Liberal is the standard hybrid of memoir, tallying political coup, and "what can we do to win" pep rally. This type of book is very typical of a pre-presidential campaign book, and although it is only now hindsight, it was unlikely he would seek the Oval Office. In his book, there are several chapters dedicated to discuss his passions: healthcare, day care, employee care and farmer care. He concludes the book with a "behind the scenes" recount of several episodes where he became a thorn-in-the-sides of both Republicans and Democrats. He equally spreads the disdain between parties; he writes many passages admonishing the Democratic Senatorial Committee on polling and big money fund raising. Sen Wellstone doesn't think it unreasonable that Republicans would vote against their constituent's interests, but is mildly surprised his fellow Democrats would; he rationalizes this action as wanting to be reelected.

I did learn that Republican legislators are inherently flawed, wanting to turn their back on women, children, workers, racial minorities and the poor, but they easily become evil by the Pavlovian conditioning to lobbyist money. Conversely, farmers he encountered at campaign rallies were only temporarily anti-Semetic, beaten into hatred by the looming threat of loss of their farms. He writes about teachers struggling to do their best, driven by an intrinsic mindset for social good, yet he presents an encounter with students refusing to become teachers and teacher leaving the field because of poor pay and lack of respect. Suddenly extrinsic influences become more important. As well, I am sure teachers would agree discontinuing one five-day long aptitude test given to students as young as nine-years-old would be more welcoming to several other tests in its replacement!

This was boilerplate politics. It comes from the left. While he doesn't offer specifics about a minimum wage, Wellstone brings it up enough. If we relate his ire at the universal healthcare legislation to limiting regulations to employers of 50 employees or more to his minimum wage rate, I would think he would make any employer to pay the prevailing hourly pay rate; after all, that would only be fair. But imagine the small business, some hip neighborhood coffee shop having to pay $13 dollars an hour and provide full benefits! Near the end of the book he hails the gumption of small business owners at a cafe meet-and-greet. He lambasts big business with their lobbyists fighting for less regulation and more money (via subsidies), he lauds small business for saying get out of our way (less regulations) and financial assistance (more money).

Wellstone often lauds Republicans, with a hint of surprise, when they agree with the basis of his own convictions. He relates a few times where he worked to their proclivities - while apparently not compromising his own - to co-author bills and garner passage of legislation or inclusion of amendments thereon. The late Senator proudly shares his unbending regard for his beliefs and several times prevented bills from moving out of committee or gaining consensus. He cheerfully identifies himself as the 1 in a 95-1 vote. Most of the second-to-last chapter is of self-congratulation in being the sole senator holding up a bill, attempting to be the minority; as if we have minority rule in our government, he cheers his actions of stalling the senate for days on end, hoping to either kill a bill or get what he wants tacked on as amendments. Being an undaunted proponent of universal or single-payer healthcare and a staunch contrarian willing to table legislation if it didn't include his desires, I relish the thought of Sen Wellstone lauding the Republicans delaying passage of Obamacare... I don't think it would happen. The minority party, Republicans, attempted to delay confirmation of "healthcare reform" and held up the bill in several committees to the consternation of the Democrats; it passed and was signed by the president without one Republican yea vote. Truly silencing the minority voice in both houses.

At any rate, this book was like ninety-nine percent of the volumes of books written by elected men and women - of no consequence and predictable. Promoting pet projects, solidifying personal desires and political goals and vilifying those in opposition (maybe a compliment here or there when the "other side" came to yours), and a restatement of personal or political bona fides via a life story. ( )
  HistReader | May 23, 2012 |
Wellstone's progressive manifesto, consciously modeled after Goldwater's "The Conscience of a Conservative." ( )
  JBD1 | Jan 10, 2006 |
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TO SHEILA

After thirty-seven years of marriage, I am not objective.
But love loving and working with you.


TO MIKE EPSTEIN

You were my teacher. You made me a good senator.

TO RICK KAHN

Everyone should be blessed to have a friend like you.

TO MY CHILDREN, DAVID, MARCIA, AND MARK, AND TO MY GRANDCHILDREN, CARI, KEITH, JOSHUA, MATT, ACACIA, AND SIDNEY

I love you.

TO MY PARENTS, MINNIE AND LEON

I know you know - your son is a U.S. senator.
Don't worry-I'm a liberal!

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"Never separate the lives you live from the words you speak," Paul Wellstone told his students at Carleton College, where he was professor of political science. Wellstone has lived up to his words as the most liberal man in the United States Senate, where for the past decade he has been the voice for improved health care, education, reform, and support for children. In this folksy and populist memoir, Wellstone explains why the politics of conviction are essential to democracy. Through humor and heartfelt stories, Paul Wellstone takes readers on an unforgettable journey (in a school bus, which he used to campaign for door-to-door) from the fields and labor halls of Minnesota to the U.S. Senate, where he is frequently Republican Majority Leader Trent Lott's most vocal nemesis. Along the way, he argues passionately for progressive activism, proves why all politics is personal, and explains why those with the deepest commitment to their beliefs win.

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